KEITH Jackson was good enough to publish a provocative article of mine a few weeks ago called, ‘Are Australians racist?’
It was intended to stimulate discussion, which it did, with an excellent rejoinder from Phil Fitzpatrick.
So it seems only fair to turn the question around to the other country in the equation – Papua New Guinea.
So are Papua New Guineans racist?
Let me start with a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Racism – (1) Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior; (2) The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
As with our experiences in Australia, my wife Rose and I have had few experiences in PNG which could be fairly classed as racism. Some specific cases do come to mind, though.
I was having a discussion with some Papua New Guinean friends at the University of PNG when I made some disparaging comments about polygamy, the treatment of women and the extent of corruption.
I was met with the reply, “You don't understand the Melanesian way."
Well, maybe I don't and this was not racism but, when used as a rejoinder to anyone who criticises PNG society, I think it borders on racism.
This was followed by another fellow saying, "But you are a whitie - you don't have the right to criticise us." Now that's also borderline racism in my book (and from a man who gained a Commonwealth scholarship to study at Cambridge).
Another time I stopped a man at the local market from bashing a woman in the face with a water bottle. I called him out, saying, "You must never treat a woman like that!" He replied, "She's my wife, I can do whatever I like. You are a stupid white man and yu no savi."
And then there was the time the lapun aunties who visited us after our marriage and insisted on calling me "masta". I said they should never call anyone that as the good book says “call no man master”.
This is perhaps reverse racism. Perhaps they can be forgiven because of their age and historical background, but it was an embarrassing moment.
And good old Joe who I worked with, showing me some historical books, said, "These are from what we call 'taim bilon masta', but never say that".
I do not know if these examples are really racist or an example of a racist legacy left by a colonial power which practiced segregation and would not let local people into many of its social and sports clubs. This is an historical fact, an historical artefact which was standard in those days.
But there is another thread in PNG which appears racist - the mistrust and prejudice against people from other provinces.
Bougainvilleans call people from the PNG mainland 'redskins'.
A Mt Hagen taxi driver advised me not to trust women from Alotau, as “they fly in the night and turn your mind by witchcraft”.
Each province seems to have its own suspicions of people from beyond its borders.
Is this racism? You be the judge.